Victory Gardens QUEEN Review: A Test of Friendship

Priya Mohanty and Darci Nalepa. Photo by Liz Lauren

Would you choose friendship over truth?

The question above serves as the marketing tagline for Victory Garden’s newest world premiere, and it certainly seems fitting. Over the course of this 90-minute production, playwright Madhuri Shekar breaks down the concepts of ethics and morals, and asks: What would you do if faced with an impossible decision? Would you stand up for the right thing, even if you are to lose everything? At what point do the lines begin to blur?

Queen at Victory Gardens

Written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Joanie Schultz, Queen follows Sanam Shah (Priya Mohanty) and Ariel Spiegel (Darci Nalepa) – two close friends and PhD candidates in the process of completing their thesis exploring the impending extinction of honey bees. On the brink of getting their paper published in Nature, Sanam comes across a small miscalculation that could unravel everything. Given everything that is at stake for their work, Sanam must make a choice – does she accept the consequences? Or does she try to find another way out? 

Shekar’s script is witty, and while I may have liked to see her heighten the stakes of Sanam’s decision a little more, the writing felt strong. The conflict of ethics versus loyalty seemed realistic, and posed some tough questions for the audience: What is more important, friendship or reputation? Should it matter? What do you do if one choice can make you lose everything you hold important?

Stephen Spencer, Priya Mohanty, and Darci Nalepa. Photo by Liz Lauren
Adam Poss and Priya Mohanty Photo by Liz Lauren
Priya Mohanty Photo by Liz Lauren

Striking Design

Helmed by Schultz, the design team made an aesthetically gorgeous production. Set Designer Chelsea M. Warren and Lighting Designer Heather Gilbert collaborated to create a space on stage that felt scientific and high-tech. Set was minimal, but utilized tables and jagged blocks on stage with glowing, accented edges. The few set pieces would transform depending on what was needed for a scene, such as adding a couple blankets and pillows to create a hotel room.

Hanging from the ceiling was a cluster of small lights that would also transform from moment to moment – whether it was to create the effect of a chandelier with mood-lighting at a restaurant, or stars in an outdoor setting.

Shekar’s play is about a relationship between two friends and colleagues, and Schultz’s choice to utilize a simplistic set helped emphasize that theme. The focus of the production could be on creating the necessary elements to share their story, and the intimate space of Victory Gardens helped draw us into the drama.

Stellar Stage Chemistry

The ensemble of four actors worked together wonderfully. The witty script called for a fast-paced production, and the actors met that challenge with ease. In particular, the chemistry between the performers helped push the play over the top.


Mohanty and Adam Poss play love interests as Sanam Shah and Arvind Patel, and their ability to play off each other emphasized the comedy in their scenes. Sanam and Arvind have been set up on a blind date, and from the start Poss’ oblvious and slightly conceited character created a fun opposite to Mohanty’s sharp-witted Sanam. The humor only grew as the characters spent more time together after the initial first date, and made for some lovely light moments to help balance out the unfortunate drama that rises between. 

The relationship that truly steals the show is that of Nalepa and Mohanty in the roles of Ariel and Sanam – the best friends who embark on this journey of publishing their paper. We meet the two characters at university party for the PhD candidates, and the fast-paced humor that the characters share immediately sets us up for the play we are about to watch unfold. The stage chemistry between the duo is spot-on, and the honesty in their relationship makes them easy to root for. At the heart of their partnership is a loyalty that cannot break, and Nalepa and Mohanty bring that to life.

Funny and intriguing, Queen is a play that should not be missed.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves

Priya Mohanty and Adam Poss Photo by Liz Lauren
Darci Nalepa and Priya Mohanty Photo by Liz Lauren


Through May 14, 2017

Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 3:00pm
Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3:00pm

Run Time: 90 minutes, without intermission


Victory Gardens Theater

2433 North Lincoln Avenue




Tickets can be purchased through online, or by calling (773) 871-3000



Liz Lauren


Note: An excerpt of this play appears in Theatre in Chicago.


About the Author: 

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters. 


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